Nominated for Nothing: Booksmart was too smart for the Oscars
They’re destined to score zero Academy Awards, but they won our hearts throughout 2019. Ahead of Sunday’s 92nd Oscars ceremony, EW is breaking down the year’s best movies, performances, and directorial achievements that were nominated for nothing.
The film: Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut may have been billed as the “female Superbad,” but this exuberant ode to friendship and feminism stands on its own, a coming-of-age insta-classic that’s both hysterical and heartfelt. Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever light up the screen as the inseparable Molly and Amy, two strait-laced overachievers who’ve sacrificed social lives for scholastic achievement — only to discover that the partying classmates they’ve spurned managed to juggle both. With one night left before graduation, the duo vow to make up for lost time and squeeze in as much misbehavior as they can muster.
And so our heroines embark on a twisted fairy-tale quest, trekking through the woods (suburban Los Angeles) and avoiding wolves (a weird pizza delivery guy, their annoying high school principal) to reach their destination (a classmate’s cool house party). Feldstein and Dever crackle with an effortless BFF energy, whether they’re kicking off an impromptu dance party on Molly’s apartment complex lawn or lavishing each other’s navy jumpsuits with compliments. (Between Booksmart and Fleabag, 2019 really was the year of the jumpsuit.) Wilde portrays Molly and Amy as a particular brand of ambitious young women, eager to save the big wide world but still unsure of how to navigate something as small as high school. They’ve embraced their uncoolness as a social shield and dismissed their classmates’ frivolity, only to realize that all this time, they haven’t been rejected; they’re the ones who’ve been doing the rejecting. What ensues is a nonstop misadventure, marked by both manic, neon-lit comedy and quieter moments of soul-searching.
Why it wasn’t nominated: The Academy rarely rewards comedy, usually preferring to honor sweeping historical epics or dramatic biopics. Voters tend to love anything that leaves them in tears — just not tears of laughter. Booksmart’s raunchy teen shenanigans aren’t exactly your typical Oscar fare. (By comparison, the beloved Superbad didn’t score any Oscar noms either.)
Still, a nomination wouldn’t have been that far-fetched. After all, the Oscars have a history with sharp, riotous coming-of-age stories about young women navigating the perils of high school, friendship, and sex: Think of 2017’s Lady Bird or 2007’s Juno, both of which scored multiple nominations in the acting, writing, directing, and best picture categories. (Juno even won for Best Original Screenplay.) In the end, Booksmart did snag some awards-season love, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Feldstein and an original screenplay nod from the Writers Guild of America, but it wasn’t enough to break through at the Oscars. (Justice for Billie Lourd, who gave the best supporting actress performance of the year as the wide-eyed cryptid/golden starfish Gigi, all bedazzled fur coats and impenetrable platitudes.)
Why history will remember it better than the Academy did: On one hand, Booksmart is a distinctly 2019 creation, name-dropping Malala Yousafzai and Elizabeth Warren while capturing a certain brand of Gen Z anxiety. (Much is made of the characters knowing each other’s Hogwarts houses, which feels hilariously true to life.) The film is also refreshingly modern in its discussions of sexuality. There’s something quietly revolutionary about Amy’s portrayal as an openly queer character, and the script treats her romantic insecurities and awkward sexual explorations with a very welcome respect.
But there’s also a timeless quality to Booksmart. The Little Womens and the Breakfast Clubs of the world endure because young people have been facing many of the same anxieties for decades, and Booksmart, like the best coming-of-age stories, approaches those feelings with a similar honesty and introspection. And perhaps most importantly, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Some of this year’s Oscar nominees are the kind of grueling, sobering dramas you’re glad to have watched but will never willingly sit through again. Booksmart, meanwhile, is a zippy, affecting experience that’s endlessly revisitable.
There’s a delightful optimism in Molly and Amy’s adventure, suggesting that you can get through anything with a little ingenuity, warmth, and the help of a very good friend.